Social media use has become an integral part of daily life for many young adults and new research has now found a possible link between depression and excessive social media use.
Brian Primack, director of Pitt’s Center for Research on Media, Technology and Health, was the senior author on the paper
“Because social media has become such an integrated component of human interaction, it is important for clinicians interacting with young adults to recognize the balance to be struck in encouraging potential positive use, while redirecting from problematic use,” Primack said.
The sample consisted of 1,787 adults from the United States with ages ranging from 19 to 32. Researchers tried to be proactive and controlled the other factors that may contribute to depression such as age, sex, race, ethnicity, relationship status, living situation, income and education level.
Researchers gave the participants questionnaires to help them understand their social media habits. Questions were asked about 11 social media outlets including: Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, Google Plus, Instagram, Snapchat, Reddit, Tumblr, Pinterest, Vine and LinkedIn.
Results from the study showed correlations between amount of times people checked social media and the presence of several indicators of depression.
As a whole it was found that the participants used social media for about an hour each day and visited different social media accounts about 30 times per week.
The participants that reported spending the most time on social media were found to have 1.7 times the risk of depression.
Despite the many findings of the study, researchers were not able to pick apart cause and effect.
“It may be that people who already are depressed are turning to social media to fill a void,” Lui yi Lin, lead author on the study, said. Lin will be graduating at the end of spring 2016 from the University of Pittsburg School of Medicine.
However, researchers came up with explanations for how social media may cause depression. One reason was that being exposed to the ideal versions of life that people post on social media may cause people to feel envious and have a warped idea that other people have happier and more fulfilled lives.
Other reasons include the idea that more time on social media means a bigger risk of being cyber-bullied, which can lead to depression or that time spent on social media can cause people to feel they are wasting time and therefore feel negatively.
Lin and Primack both believe that this research could be used by clinicians to be aware and ask about social media use when dealing with clients who are depressed. The findings will also help encourage social media sites to be proactive when it comes to their users.
Some sites, like Tumblr, have already added features to monitor mental health. On Tumblr when users search for words such as depression and suicide, a message will pop up to ask them if they’re okay and provide them with resources to turn to if they may be feeling depressed.
“Our hope is that continued research will allow such efforts to be refined so that they better reach those in need,” Primack said.
The findings of the study have been published online and in the April 1 issue of the journal “Depression and Anxiety.” The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health.